By John Celock
President-elect Donald Trump has picked South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley (R) to serve as his ambassador to the United Nations, a pick that will shake up South Carolina politics.
Haley, the nation’s youngest governor, has been mentioned as a possible U.N. or secretary of state pick for Trump since her meeting with the president-elect last week in New York. Her nomination, which is expected to be confirmed by the Senate in January, will allow Lt. Gov. Henry McMaster (R) to succeed to the governorship, giving him the power of incumbency for his already planned 2018 gubernatorial campaign.
“I always expected to finish the remaining two years of my second term as governor. Not doing so is difficult because I love serving South Carolina more than anything,” Haley said in a statement Wednesday morning. “I was moved to accept this new assignment for two reasons. The first is a sense of duty. When the President believes you have a major contribution to make to the welfare of our nation, and to our nation’s standing in the world, that is a calling that is important to heed. The second is a satisfaction with all that we have achieved in our state in the last six years and the knowledge that we are on a very strong footing.”
Haley indicated that she plans to remain governor until the Senate confirms her for the U.N. post. She called her 2010 election as the state’s first female and first minority governor “the greatest honor of my life.”
Haley’s pending move from the South Carolina governor’s mansion to the U.N. ambassador’s Waldorf Towers apartment comes 12 years after she first entered politics and six years after her upset victory for governor. Haley, a business leader in Lexington, was first elected to the state House of Representatives in 2004, defeating then state Rep. Larry Koon in the GOP primary. Koon has been the longest serving member of the state House at that point.
During Haley’s legislative tenure, she was known for conservative views and for being thorn in the side of legislative leaders. Among her pushes during her state House years was voting against tax hikes, pushing for job performance to be factored into teacher salaries and pushing for a reduction in state legislative pensions.
Haley entered the 2010 Republican gubernatorial primary in 2009, recruited in part by outgoing Gov. Mark Sanford (R). The little known 38-year-old Haley was considered a long shot in the primary, facing off against then U.S. Rep. Gresham Barrett, then Lt. Gov. Andre Bauer and McMaster, then the state attorney general. While endorsed by former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney (R) and then South Carolina First Lady Jenny Sanford, Haley’s campaign’s biggest boost came following her endorsement from former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin (R). The Palin endorsement, combined with support from the Tea Party movement, allowed Haley to gain traction in the primary.
Haley easily led in the primary’s first round, but fell short of the required majority to win the nomination. She defeated Barrett in a runoff 65 percent to 35 percent. Haley then defeated state Sen. Vincent Sheheen, the Democratic nominee, 51 percent to 47 percent.
Haley has been considered a rising GOP star since taking office in 2011 as the nation’s first South Asian-American female governor. The youngest governor in the country since taking office, Haley has been known for a conservative bent, along with a focus on economic development. She has opposed tax hikes in the state, along with signing legislation that requires photo identification at the polls, and opposed the settlement of Syrian refugees in the state.
In 2015, Haley signed legislation that removed the Confederate flag from the grounds of the state Capitol in Columbia, following a deadly shooting at Mother Emanuel Church in Charleston. Earlier this year, she announced her opposition to proposed legislation to require transgender individuals to use the bathroom of their birth gender. Similar legislation has been adopted in North Carolina.
Haley was reelected in 2014, against facing Sheheen, by a margin of 56 percent to 41 percent. Haley had been a top target of national Democratic groups during her first term, with the groups noting that national support could have helped Sheheen win in 2010 in what was one of the closest gubernatorial campaigns in the country that year.
Haley had first endorsed Florida Sen. Marco Rubio for the GOP presidential nomination and then endorsed Texas Sen. Ted Cruz. During the GOP primary contest she and Trump had been critical of each other. Both are now praising each other.
Haley has long been a fixture in Republican Governors Association events and had been elected as the group’s 2017 vice chairwoman. The vice chair’s post positioned her to serve as the RGA’s chairwoman in 2018, where she’d be responsible for raising funds and assisting GOP gubernatorial candidates nationwide. The post was thought to help position her for a future national campaign, a move used by past GOP presidential candidates. Haley would have been the second woman to chair the RGA following New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez, who currently chairs the organization.
Haley has been mentioned in the past as a potential vice presidential or presidential candidate.
Haley comes to the U.N. post with limited background in foreign policy. She will be the first former governor to serve as U.N. ambassador since former Pennsylvania Gov. William Scranton (R) held the job in the Ford Administration. Former Illinois Gov. Adlai Stevenson (D), who held the U.N. post under Presidents Kennedy and Johnson, was the only other former governor to hold the post. Bill Richardson, who was U.N. ambassador in the Clinton Administration, would later be elected governor of New Mexico.
Haley is the first South Carolina governor to head a president’s cabinet since Democrat Richard Riley was appointed education secretary by President Clinton in 1993. Riley had left the governorship six years prior to his cabinet appointment.
In her statement, Haley touched on her work in the governorship.
“In the six years that followed, our state has reached incredible heights. We made South Carolina’s economic development the envy of the nation and brought new jobs to every county. We cut our unemployment rate by more than half, employing more South Carolinians than ever before. We reformed how we fund education, moving more resources to communities in greatest need. We passed landmark ethics reforms that make state government more accountable to our people,” she said. “Our state has also persevered through some of the most difficult times. Nature damaged many of us with the thousand-year flood and Hurricane Matthew. Our hearts were broken for those we lost when tragedy struck Walter Scott’s family, Mother Emanuel, and Townville Elementary School. Yet through it all, the greatness of our people overcame those tragedies, even coming together to heal the old wounds represented by the Confederate Flag on the Statehouse grounds.